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Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan(1961-1971)
No synopsis for Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan.
For more about Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan and the Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan Blu-ray release, see Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 22, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ronald Lewis, Strother Martin, Audrey Dalton, L.Q. Jones, Guy Rolfe, Charles Bateman
Directors: William Castle, Bernard McEveety
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan Blu-ray Review
Good and bad.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 22, 2013
An old fashioned story full of gallantry, graciousness, and ghouls.
Curses can be ugly things, and when combined with an unimaginable lust for money -- and going to ghoulish extremes to get it -- expect something really nasty to happen. Mr. Sardonicus hails from a simpler time for Horror, a time when slow reveals, thick atmospheres, cheesy dialogue, and over-the-top performances dominated the landscape, not simple blood and guts but real, genuine terror. At least most of the time. Mr. Sardonicus isn't really all that terrifying, largely because it's wholly unbelievable. There's no real catch, few scenes of any real urgency, and a resolution that's a little too cleverly simple for its own good. Yet it's absolutely a product of its era, complete with silly Twilight Zone-inspired narrated bookends and a "punishment poll" at the end in which Director William Castle pretends to scan the audience, totaling the number of "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" votes to either show the villain mercy or throw him to the proverbial wolves. It's a movie in rather good taste considering its genre, offering mostly clean fun, and it probably worked a little better back in the day when audiences (and reviewers) weren't so desensitized to cinema terror.
Dr. Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis) is one of London's most accomplished physicians. Working in the late 1800s, he finds himself on the cutting edge of medicine and technological breakthroughs. In fact, he's just received one of the first syringes with a hypodermic needle capable of delivering medicines directly into the bloodstream. That same day, he receives from a frightening one-eyed man an urgent letter from a long-lost love, Maude (Audrey Dalton), calling him to the Sardonicus estate, nestled in the darkest reaches of central Europe. He leaves posthaste and finds her married to the mysterious Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe), a man who mysteriously wears a mask when he's not locked away in his secret room. Cargrave finds the house's maidservant a victim of medical malpractice, and she warns him of the evil deeds within the mansion's walls. Cargrave soon learns the purpose for his visit: Sardonicus has become permanently disfigured, the result of a shock to the system so severe that it's left his face hideously deformed. The disfigured Sardonicus has called upon London's finest medical doctor to cure him of his ails, and he's prepared to go to any lengths to get what he wants.
Mr. Sardonicus oozes classic stylings. There's the foggy streets; the dark, dense, foreboding foliage; big screams; and "shocking" reveals. It's a film with some legitimately creepy moments, albeit moments that come too few and too infrequent. Nevertheless, the slower pace doesn't always hurt the movie; on the contrary, it allows for some solid character development and a deeper understanding of the world around Sardonicus, both his past and present. The perspective -- through the eyes of the good Dr. Robert -- feels a little unimaginative, but it's the best style for a movie of this sort, Cargrave kind of like the Jonathan Harker of the story, the outsider coming into a frightening new central European world. Indeed, the movie does have its moments when it feels like little more than a relaxed and, admittedly, drastically re-imagined Dracula, but basic pieces certainly favor the comparison. The picture's simple premise is just good enough to drag the movie along comfortably enough, dotted with a little bit of intrigue here and there -- what's so urgent that a doctor of Robert's caliber must travel so far, what's under Sardonicus' mask, why does he wear the mask, and can Robert's techniques save him -- that does keep the audience guessing all the way through to the rather anticlimactic conclusion.
Of course, the film plods along through some unintentionally humorous bits, some overacting, a few spot where it stretches credibility even under the guidelines of the absurd premise. The picture languishes in basic dialogue and suffers through some terribly stilted moments, such as when Sardonicus defines and defends the severity of the word "ghoul," making use -- verbatim -- of the same dictionary definition Director William Castle uses in his opening audience-directed monologue. The film uses the bulk of its middle stretch to fill in Sardonicus' backstory with an extended flashback sequence that's in many ways neither here nor there, particularly considering the dissatisfying conclusion, or at least the first conclusion prior to the "thumbs up/thumbs down" audience poll gimmick (and there's only one result). On the plus side, the Sardonicus makeup is thoroughly satisfying. It's a shame the audience doesn't see more of it, though certainly there's something to be said for the "less is more" approach, and the film never does feel any less complete for its reluctance to focus in on the grisly mug any more than it does. Ronald Lewis and Guy Rolfe deliver satisfying performances, certainly a little stiff and formal to be sure but they work in tandem to give the movie another layer of unease in the sometimes nonchalant way they go about their business, Lewis in his coping with the realities of life at the Sardonicus estate, application of massage therapy to his disfigured captor, and work in cutting-edge medicine and Rolfe in his abilities as gracious host, demanding patient, and morally dubious warden.
The Brotherhood of Satan
Don't any of you go outside.
It was all fun and games and normal life until the Brotherhood of Satan showed up. Those pesky devil worshipers, always making a mess of things on God's green earth. And a mighty fine mess they make in the movie named for them, a lame early 1970s fright flick about a bunch of old folks who should be knitting in the retirement home or bouncing grand baby Jane on their knees but who are instead up to devilish misdeeds in an effort to take over the souls of the local youth. Or something. So that's how kids get so corrupted, so quickly, these days. Who knew? The Brotherhood of Satan is a soulless picture, unwelcoming and one in which audiences will find little reason for faith or praise. It's slow, not at all interesting, and another in a long line of "Devil Worship" movies that are cinematically unholy and that fans will want to exorcise from their minds even before it's over.
A young couple -- Ben (Charles Bateman) and Nicky (Ahna Capri), along with Ben's daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) -- is traveling through an unassuming small town stretch when they come upon a terrible scene. A car has been completely overrun by a tank, smashing its metallic body and squishing the occupants inside. Little do they know that they're witness to the aftermath of a terrible ritual carried out by a local satanic cult. When Ben and Nicky attempt to report their finings to the local authorities, they find themselves ensnared in a dangerous situation. They cannot leave town and soon became prisoners and pawns in a terrible game where the very souls of children -- including Ben's own -- are at stake. It turns out the satanists are older citizens hoping to channel younger individuals for their own terrible gain, and they are able to manipulate children's toys to do their bidding.
"Painfully slow" best describes the movie's beginning. Shoot, it also decries the middle and end, too. Remember that old movie Manos: The Hands of Fate that now enjoys something of a major cult status thanks to an ingenious episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000? In it, there's a really, really, realllllllyyyyy long go-nowhere family driving sequence. In The Brotherhood of Satan, there's also, most unfortunately, a really, really, realllllllyyyyy long go-nowhere family driving sequence. Both movies also have something to do with the occult, or the devil, or some kind of nefarious and unholy doings behind the scenes. And they both stink. Certainly there's a little more depth, polish, and story structure in Brotherhood, not to mention a bit more star power -- Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones may not be household names, but they were in The Wild Bunch among a few other good films -- but unfortunately that means, in this case, that the movie is elevated from "total train wreck" to just "bad." And boring. Can't say that enough. It's boooooring.
Never does the film make the audience really care about the story, largely because, one, the plot isn't laid out too cleanly, and two, the characters are not necessarily unsympathetic but rather poorly developed and completely forgettable. What were their names again? The film fails to create even a smidgen of a reason to care, and never does it give the audience reason to emotionally invest in the story. It feels like it never goes anywhere, just revolving around in circles with scenes that add little, if anything, to the plot. It does reveal a decent bit of atmosphere in a couple of scenes, albeit in largely generic fashion. The satanic ritual chamber, or whatever it is, occasionally yields a mild sense of discomfort. The plot details are slightly unique, though mostly the film will only help the viewer to recall other small town-gone-haywire devil-included movies like The Children of the Corn. The performances are flat, thanks more to a flatter script than bad actors. There are a couple of interesting and intense scenes, but the movie peaks with the tank at the beginning, even though it's cut in such a way that it makes almost no sense. In short, this is a pretty bad movie.
Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan Blu-ray, Video Quality
The black-and-white Mr. Sardonicus doesn't represent the finest in colorless Blu-ray goodness, but the transfer is surprisingly stout and probably better than what fans might have reasonably expected of an old title on budget Blu-ray. It doesn't start too promisingly, though, showing some pale blacks and poor gradation between shades of gray, resulting in some blocky, clumpy backdrops in the London exteriors. Once the action shifts to Dr. Cargrave's office, it tightens up nicely and hardly ever lets up, save for a few more unsightly outdoor shots. The image proves very stable and nicely defined, whether primary elements, such as character and clothing details, or background elements that retain a sharpness and accuracy all around the frame. The interior of the Sardonicus mansion is also prime real estate for picturesque details; both the open, inviting, nicely appointed living areas and the grimy, rougher textured "torture chamber" area both reveal excellent details. The transfer also shows off the well done and largely seamless Sardonicus makeup, a real pleasure in those shots in which it's visible for more than a second or so of screen time. Generally, the print looks clean, with light grain intact. However sporadic pops and speckles do appear, usually infrequently but spiking occasionally. All in all, this is a solid presentation from Mill Creek.
The Brotherhood of Satan
Mill Creek's high definition presentation of The Brotherhood of Satan is the unequivocal highlight of the release. While certainly not a perfect, stunning transfer, it's certainly balanced and handsome, film-like and with only a few forgivable flaws. Light grain remains over the top and aids in creating a pleasing, albeit basic, film texturing. That's not to mention the absence of significant scrubbing, which leaves the film's rather nice details intact. This is a sharp, usually well-defined image that shows everything from cracked paint and concrete down vegetation and terrain with ease. Facial and clothing details, too, are completely satisfying. Colors are fine, not particularly vibrant but not dulled, either. There's a nice middle ground here that displays a wide palette with no bleeding or any sense of artificialness about it. Black levels and flesh tones are fine. There are some sporadic white speckles, but nothing too concerning. Given the low budget nature of the film, its age, and the Blu-ray disc's status as a bargain release, this is just about a best-case scenario for the film under the circumstances.
Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Mr. Sardonicus features a terribly bland DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossless soundtrack that should be the poster child for "lifeless." Certainly this is no multi-million dollar production with A-grade sound design, so the boring presentation can certainly be understood in context. It's puny and utterly unconvincing at all times, save for dialogue. The spoken word comes through with commendable evenness and accuracy, but forget much of anything more. Music plays with no range beyond the center, ditto any of the few sound effects scattered throughout, such as a ringing bell on a ship and a "rumbling" locomotive that ambles "through" the stage. There's no clarity or oomph to any of the effects, and combined with zero range, the net result is a boring listen but one that doesn't really impede one's ability to enjoy the film, either.
The Brotherhood of Satan
The Brotherhood of Satan features a terribly bland and front-center dominant DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossless soundtrack. The weakness is evident from the start as the tank "rumbles" over the car with the sonic force of a fuzzy radio station barely coming in at low volume. The track makes use of the bare minimum in clarity and power and often sounds detached from the film. Whether big, should-be aggressive sounds like that tank or light ambience like a small crackling fire, there's no life, minimal presence, and only the basic sound signature of most every sound element. Dialogue is uneven and clunky, though generally more focused and clear than any surrounding sound elements. Nevertheless, the din of screaming children at a birthday party or an angry mob later in the movie come across as disjointed and lacking anything resembling reality. The track does find the rare moment when things nearly pass for acceptable; distant thunder and buzzing insects in the background of a scene in chapter four don't sound awful, at least in context. Then again, more dominant thunder comes across almost digitally, with no sense of accuracy. This is a completely forgettable track, though certainly attached to a movie that probably didn't enjoy top-notch sound engineering to begin with, anyway.
Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No extra content is included.
Mr. Sardonicus / The Brotherhood of Satan Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Mr. Sardonicus is silly fun, The Brotherhood of Satan is silly dumb. One is well paced, the other not. One has an enjoyably simple plot, the other is needlessly complex and dull. Though only one film is really worth watching (let alone owning), Mill Creek's two-pack makes adding an extra movie to the collection affordable. Along with the low price comes high quality video, bland sound, and no extras. Recommended for Sardonicus, even if there is no "Punishment Poll" card included (how is William Castle supposed to know how his Blu-ray audience votes, again?).
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